July 20

No Kissing on Screen (1910)

It was on this date, July 20, 1910, that the Christian Endeavor Society of Missouri began a campaign to ban all motion pictures that depicted kissing between non-relatives — coincidentally on the same year and month that sultry silent screen actress Theda Bara turned 20. Movies were only just beginning to become a form of mass entertainment: the first couple filmed kissing for the general public was John C Rice and May Irwin in the 1896 film called The Kiss.

The Christian objection is hard to fathom: kissing in public, especially kissing between men, is not only mentioned but commanded by the Bible. "Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity" says 1 Peter 5:14. "And the LORD said to Aaron, 'Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.' And he went, and met him in the mount of God, and kissed him," says Exodus 4:27. This is definitely kissing between non-relatives. There are even kisses for inanimate objects (1 Kings 19:18 and Hosea 13:2)

Maybe the objection was to kissing between men and women? We have Jacob kissing Rachel (his niece) in Genesis 29:11.* The kiss in Genesis and another in Proverbs 7:13-14* were definitely sexual, as opposed to the kiss commonly shared between family members or friends.

There are two more kisses between a man and a woman in Song of Solomon (1:2 and 8:1)† and another two in Luke (7:37-38 and 7:45)‡. There are even kisses between two women in the Book of Ruth (1:8-9 and 1:14).‡‡ It's in the Bible, so aren't public displays of affection OK? Or would public displays of hostility be better?

The reticence about kissing between men and women really stems from the early Christian belief that the body and sexuality — especially female sexuality — are evil, an idea Christians borrowed from the Zoroastrians and perhaps the Essenes. As a matter of fact, the Christian battle against public displays of sexuality is far from over: as late as 1999, church groups in middle America claimed that pictures of Britney Spears printed in Rolling Stone magazine — showing Britney in her bedroom, scantily clad — encouraged child pornography (Spears was then 18). Both Christian Endeavor and the anti-Britney campaign seem to have failed.

* A kiss between an uncle and a niece: [29:11] And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
** A harlot's kiss: [7:13] So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him,
  [7:14] I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows.
† [1:2] Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
  [8:1] O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised.
‡ Kissing of feet: [7:37-38] And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
  Jesus speaks: [7:45] Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
‡‡ [1:8-9] And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.
  [1:14] And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.

Want to comment on this essay? Send me an e-mail!


Erik Axel Karlfeldt

Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864)

Also on this date, July 20, 1864, the Nobel-winning Swedish poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt was born in Folkärna in the rural province of Dalarna, central Sweden. His father was a lawyer, his mother a devout Lutheran. While supporting himself as a teacher, Karlfeldt completed his University of Uppsala studies and graduated in 1902.

As a poet, Karlfeldt debuted in 1895 with a collection called Songs of Wilderness and of Love. This he followed with Fridolin's Songs (1898), Fridolin's Pleasure Garden (1901), Flora and Pomona (1906) and Flora and Bellona (1918) — for all of which, even as an old-fashioned voice in a modern age, he was greatly esteemed. When offered the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1918, Karlfeldt protested that he had no right to the prize because he was little known outside his own country. Four years before his death, he published The Horn of Autumn (1927). The University of Minnesota published his selected poems, translated by Charles Warton Stork, in Arcadia Borealis (1938).

Karlfeldt had been seriously ill in 1913, which made him study his personal beliefs more closely. In a poem called "A Vagrant" we read this couplet:

What's your religion? What is your creed?
I know only this: I know naught.
Karlfeldt was an Agnostic with mystic tendencies. He died in Stockholm on 8 April 1931. He was finally awarded his Nobel, posthumously, that same year.

Want to comment on this essay? Send me an e-mail!


Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
Wordcount 601